April 26, 2009

Preaching as proclamation

Yesterday, we attended a funeral. It was not as sad as it was uplifting. Those who shared stories from the life of the woman who had died also declared her faith and described how faith in Christ that means victory over sin and death. Even though few would have called it preaching, by definition, those eulogies were preached.

In Bible days, the word for preaching meant to make a proclamation or announce a triumph. As my devotional reading says, in ancient times “a herald would precede generals and kings in the celebration of military victories, announcing to all the victories that were won in battle.” In one sense, this is what happened at the funeral. It was announced that because of Jesus, this woman had won her battles.

There is a phrase in a verse in 1 Peter that is difficult to understand. However, with that definition of preaching as proclamation in mind, the meaning becomes clearer:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient. . . . (1 Peter 3:18-20)
While there are several interpretations of what “preached to the spirits in prison” means, one makes the most sense. This verse is not about Jesus preaching the gospel in hell to those who had died without faith, but about Him announcing His triumph to all who were against Him.

Some assume the “spirits in prison” are departed and unsaved humans and that Jesus went to tell them about His death and resurrection, but this preaching is not about winning souls. The Bible clearly offers no support for any second chance after death. In fact, Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”

Instead, this preaching is in the sense of proclamation, of declaring victory. This is Jesus announcing that He had won the battle. He defeated the enemy, a corporate enemy of sin, death, hell, demons, and Satan. The declaration could have been made to the unsaved dead, or to lost and rebellious spiritual beings, or both. That is not the point. The focus is on Jesus who was put to death, is now alive, and has conquered death and every other thing that resists Him.

How is this practical for me today? First, just those two words “Jesus Wins” have a huge impact on my joy barometer. I can say that I serve a living Savior, and say it with great confidence and hope. Nothing can defeat Jesus Christ.

Second, I am delighted for the woman who died, and for her family. She is with Jesus. As one person who “preached” yesterday said, if we could get a small glimpse of where she is now, we would not sorrow but be extremely glad.

Third, every day brings challenges, some large, some small, but no matter what they are, the big ones are taken care of because Jesus defeated them. Sin, death, hell and all my spiritual enemies cannot harm me. I know that I will live forever, that sin cannot destroy me, and that the liar cannot defeat me.

I also know that I am a winner. True winning is not about prizes, a job, trophies, or defeating all the competition, or winning the lottery, or even winning arguments. Life is about following the One who defeated my worse fears and conquered everything that resists grace and goodness. As the King goes into glory with the spoils of war, I am following Him. I am both the spoil of His war and a soldier who shares in His victory.

What more can I say? He is my commanding officer and no matter what battles still face me, the proclamation has been made — they have already been won.

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